GARNER — Faced with a slimming Recession-era budget, the Garner Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department knew Halloween had to be done cheaper. In this case, it found that less truly is more.
Trick-or-Treat the Trails has not only supplanted a more complex predecessor, but blown it away in community participation at virtually no cost.
The inaugural event in 2012 drew about 4,500 to White Deer Park and won the 2013 Innovative Program Award from the N.C. Recreation and Park Association, the statewide professional organization for parks and decreation departments. This year, it drew about 6,000.
“We’re proud. It’s a big honor from our professional organization,” White Deer Park manager Stephanie Shaffer said. “We’re glad the event was so well received by the community.”
The last year of Goblins in the Park in 2011 drew about 1,500 to a more festival-like event incluing hayrides, carnival-style games and a haunted trail. The labor- and cost-intensive program failed the bang-for-the-buck test as money tightened mid-Recession, but the department still wanted to provide something worthwhile for the community.
At the event, local businesses – usually around 40 of them – set up shop along the greenway as costumed children (and adults) walk by to receive candy (and business cards). The idea sprung from the grand opening of the White Deer Park greenway in 2011, when on a cold, rainy Halloween night two days after Goblins in the Park about 800 showed up for trick-or-treating and to check out the trail.
“We felt like it would be a good program because we had a good response to our greenway opening,” Shaffer said. “But it has been quite a bit more than we anticipated. Participation from the community and our partners has really blown us away.”
So the town gets a cheap event that costs almost nothing and wins awards. Local businesses get exposure to thousands in the community for the cost of some candy. Parents get a place for children to easily trick-or-treat. And of course, the children get candy.
“This award is another great example of parks and recreation staff members’ continuous efforts to find innovative and exciting ways to involve the community in our programs,” Garner PRCR Director Sonya Shaw said in a release. “Collaborative partnerships with businesses, churches and community groups proved successful in this endeavor, led by Stephanie Shaffer.”
The event won the Rising Star Award from the N.C. Association of Festivals and Events earlier in the year. Shaffer said the event will continue to be a staple for the town in the forseeable future.
Shaffer learned of the NCRPA award on Halloween, the night of the 2013 event. The department couldn’t tell anyone until after the presentation, and the town sent a press release in December.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland